After declaring himself opposed to the death penalty last month, Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett said last night he supports affirmative action.
One of the most conservative members of the House, Republican Bartlett voted in 1998 to prohibit affirmative action in higher education admissions.
Last night, Bartlett told a crowd at a candidates forum in Westminster sponsored by the Carroll County NAACP: "I'm very supportive of affirmative action, but not quotas.
"If there are two candidates for a job and one is a minority and one is not, I would give the job to the minority candidate," assuming both are equally qualified.
Bartlett said he opposes hiring unqualified people for jobs to satisfy an arbitrary quota.
Two years ago, the NAACP gave Bartlett an "F" rating among Maryland's congressional delegation, and said he was one of 50 members of Congress rated with a zero for not backing the NAACP's position on 12 votes.
Also last night, Bartlett backed more help for welfare recipients moving into the world of work. "I want to provide health care, day care and affordable housing," he said. "Work is therapeutic," he said.
Asked after the hourlong forum with Democratic candidate Donald DeArmon whether his stand doesn't put him at odds with most other Republicans, Bartlett said he believes "most Republicans are for affirmative action. I want to reach out and encourage them to apply" for jobs.
Then he smiled and added, "I'm my own man, you may have noticed."
DeArmon, who began the session by attacking the four-term Western Maryland congressman's voting record, said that despite Bartlett's statements, "Roscoe Bartlett was the only member of Maryland's delegation to vote against funding for the Equal Employment [Opportunity] Commission and the office of Civil Rights in the Justice Department," the two agencies most responsible for affirmative action programs.
But Bartlett denied that, claiming that DeArmon is "quite unfair" for using his votes against gigantic multipurpose spending bills to accuse him of opposing specific programs buried deep within them.
"I never voted against a clear bill for school funding, the EEOC or civil rights," Bartlett said.
Later in the forum, Bartlett again defended his votes against big spending bills.
"That was loaded with pork. It was a Christmas tree. It was a scandalous bill," he said, insisting that he, perhaps alone among the nation's congressional representatives, has spent hours reading the gigantic budget bills.
Leon Dorsey II, president of the Carroll chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that sponsored the forum, said he was surprised to hear Bartlett endorse affirmative action.
"It's good to hear he is for affirmative action, but actions speak louder than words," Dorsey said.
This is not the only time Bartlett has endorsed a position at odds with the GOP.
Last month, at a similar forum at a Columbia synagogue, the 74-year-old Buckeystown farm owner and scientist said he opposes the death penalty.
DeArmon, 44, of Frederick, a 23-year congressional staffer, is hoping a last-minute campaign publicity blitz will catch the imagination of voters tired of Bartlett's maverick status and his disdain for bringing federal largesse home to Western Maryland's 150-mile-long congressional district.
The Democrat charges that Bartlett is out of step with voters and should be replaced.